Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Gay Catholic Insurgency

By Brian McNeill

In a fascinating book I am reading that compares the Soviet Union in its death throes to the current economic and political situation in the United States, I found the follow quote. The author is describing the lessons the Red Army learned in Chechnya and Afghanistan.

"A military effort alone can never defeat a popular insurgency. The insurgents never have to win, they just have to continue to fight. In fighting them, the military is forced to fight the people of the country, and by perpetuating a state of war it continually thwarts its stated purpose, which is to establish peace. There is no room for victory in this scenario, but only for an ever-widening spiral of murder, hatred and shame."

- Reinventing Collapse, Demitry Orlov (p.40)

We cannot exactly equate the situation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (glbt) Catholics with that of the insurgents of Afghanistan in the 1980s, or Chechnya in the 1990s. However, I think we benefit from thinking of ourselves as insurgents confronting a huge, monolithic adversary. Most gay Catholics who stay in the Church prefer to think of themselves as the loyal opposition rather than insurgents, but during the last twenty years it is clear that the hierarchy does not view us that way. Some might abjure the idea of being in a fight with Church authorities, but I would like to suggest that is exactly where we are. Since the publication of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1986 “Halloween Letter,” which first described us as “objectively disordered,” and “oriented towards an intrinsic moral evil,” we have been treated as the enemy.

If, in the above quote, we substitute “church authorities” for “military,” and “the Catholic faithful” for “the people of the country,” our current situation begins to come into clearer focus. The above quote would then read as follows:

The church authorities can never defeat a truly grassroots movement of the faithful. We, the glbt insurgents, never need to win, we just have to continue to fight. In fighting against us, the hierarchy is fighting its own people, which thwarts its stated purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, and creating the Reign of God. They will never win as long as we continue our efforts. The harder they fight us, the more they alienate the Catholic faithful and reveal themselves as hypocrites.

I reached these conclusions after a recent, brief exchange with Fr. Thomas J. Kessler, the Director of Pastoral Formation at the St Paul Seminary School of Divinity.

Fr. Kessler presided at the 9:30 Mass at my parish, Holy Rosary, the first Sunday in August of last year. The Dominican, Brother Kevin, introduced him to the congregation as “an important guy” at the seminary. In light of our unsuccessful efforts to begin a dialogue with the seminary authorities in 2006, I asked to speak with Fr. Kessler after Mass, and he obliged.

I introduced myself as the president of Dignity Twin Cities and the organizer of the Rainbow Sash. He had never heard of Dignity. When I explained that Dignity is a group of glbt Catholics, and that I am a gay Catholic man in a committed relationship, his immediate initial response was, “You are sinners!” and there is nothing to talk about. I pointed out there is a great deal to talk about on a pastoral level since there are glbt Catholics at most Masses in most parishes everyday. I said that Dignity and the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities would like to have a formal dialogue with the seminary about pastoral, not doctrinal issues. There is no need to discuss doctrinal issues because the doctrine is completely clear, but there are glbt Catholics in the pews each Sunday who reject that doctrine, and his priests need to understand their lives and their issues.

At this point, realizing I was taking him somewhere he did not want to go, Fr. Kessler began pulling out the excuses. I could see the wheels spinning, and the thought foremost in his brain, “How do I get rid of this guy?” He said I was like a Jehovah Witness who recently cornered him for the purpose of trying to convert him. I replied that he was dealing with baptized Catholics who show up in church each Sunday just as I had showed up at Holy Rosary. He then tried to dismiss me as an “activist,” obsessed with an issue not important to anyone else. He said he was too busy. He said he was not authorized to initiate the kind of dialogue I was requesting; only the rector could do that. Finally, he said that gay Catholics are not really a minority group like African Americans or Latinos, and therefore do not deserve a dialogue. I ended the discussion by saying I would send the rector, Fr. Aloysius Callaghan, and him, a follow-up letter.

After formally requesting a dialogue once again with the seminary staff, my letter to Fr. Kessler and Fr. Callaghan included the following quote from the November 14, 2006, document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.”

It is important that Church ministers listen to the experiences, needs, and hopes of the person with a homosexual inclination [sic] to whom and with whom they minister. Dialogue provides an exchange of information, and also communicates a respect for the innate dignity of other persons and a respect for their consciences.

In his reply to my letter, Fr. Kessler assured me that he instructs “the seminarians entrusted to my care” to treat all people in a Christ-like manner. However, unlike Christ, rather than take responsibility for initiating a dialogue, he continued with his bureaucratic dodge and concluded by saying that “any further communications should be directed to Monsignor Aloysius R. Callaghan.”

As I write to Fr. Callaghan, I do not hold any illusions about the possibility of the archdiocese engaging the Catholic glbt community in a serious dialogue through the seminary staff, where such a pastoral dialogue clearly belongs. Their counter-insurgency tactic is to ignore us, call us sinners, and hope that we will go away. Many of us have gone away, for reasons I, who tire of the struggle from time to time, completely understand.

The insurgency / war metaphor for our effort is not completely apt, because what we are doing, fundamentally, is loving, not fighting, on. The priests and bishops are our brothers. Some honestly believe the Church teaching, and some know it is seriously in error. Either way, the Gospel calls us to teach them the truth of our lives, even if they have locked themselves in a dungeon of false theology and thrown away the key.

Brian McNeill is the president of Dignity Twin Cities and the convenor of Rainbow Sash Alliance USA.


  1. Brian, I've not told you how great I think this report/article is. Thank you for your persistent witness in the face of injustice. Paula

  2. This is so sad! I'm a straight middle aged woman who sins every day of my life, falling short of God's perfection in all I do. Yet I know I am forgiven and covered by His divine grace and mercy through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, just as ALL sinners are who confess and repent their sins, including our LBGT brothers and sisters. Come sit next to me at mass, we can ask (and receive) God's continued blessings for ourselves and our loved ones through Him. ��